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Arrests up and crime down at LAX, airport officials say

February 11, 2010 | 12:03 pm

Arrests were up at LAX in 2009 over the previous year as reported crimes in key categories decreased, an official with Los Angeles World Airports said Thursday.

Figures compiled by the Los Angeles Airport Police show the number of arrests increased 11%, from 1,263 in 2008 to 1,407 in 2009. The number of reported thefts fell 4.4% over the same period, from 802 in 2008 to 766 in 2009, and the number of aggravated assaults dropped from five to zero.

A total of 57 million passengers used LAX last year, officials said, and police estimate daily traffic at the airport, including non-traveling visitors and airport workers, to be 209,000 people a day.

“LAX continues to be one of the safest airports in the world, and one of the safest areas in all of Southern California,” Los Angeles Airport Police Chief George R. Centeno said in a statement.

Airport police have stepped up their enforcement efforts over the last year, focusing on problem areas, such as baggage claim, that are vulnerable to theft and other crimes, said Albert Rodriguez, a spokesman for Los Angeles World Airports.

The declining number of travelers at LAX might be making the job easier as well.  The annual number of passengers dropped 5.5%, from 60 million in 2008 to 57 million in 2009. Traffic numbers reached their peak in 2000, when more than 67.3 million travelers passed through LAX.

But aggressive and unlawful solicitors remain a difficult issue because they often pose as airport ambassadors, using official-looking badges and carrying maps of the airport, he said. Official airport ambassadors wear straw hats and red vests.

Once the phony ambassadors provide a traveler with information, they will make a “sales pitch,” asking the traveler for money for their cause, Rodriguez said.

“Some of them don’t have the correct paperwork,” Rodriguez said. “Some are ex-felons, and they’re working that way. Because they’re in the public area … they’re in their rights to be there.”

If the illegal solicitors delay or prevent passengers from getting to their flights on time, authorities can step in, he said.

-- Amina Khan

Photo: L.A. Times file, LAX